The media trial of Arif Naqvi.

IF you were to read the press coverage about Arif Naqvi over the last few weeks, the tainted former head of the fallen Abraaj empire, you would be convinced that Naqvi is evil. 'The fleece artist', 'thief', 'liar' and 'the myth builder' are phrases in articles that paint an ugly portrait of Naqvi. He is currently in London facing extradition to the US, where he has been indicted on counts of theft, fraud and racketeering. A trial is set to take place in the Southern District New York court.

The recent coverage stems from the publication of a book, The Key Man, written by Simon Clark and Will Louch - both Wall Street Journal reporters who broke and covered the Abraaj scandal. Clark and Louch allege that Naqvi, motivated by greed, masterminded a global criminal conspiracy, stole from his firm and misused investor capital. Their story is a hair-raising timeline of how a top private equity group promising to do good went bust, with officials, including Naqvi, raiding investor funds meant to build hospitals to allegedly enrich themselves and plug cash shortfalls in other parts of the company.

Two recently published books on Abraaj paint wildly different accounts of the man at the center of a scandal that shook the private equity world

But there is a second book, one that tells a starkly different story. It calls these descriptions of Naqvi one-sided and tells the story of Naqvi, the human and the victim. Written by Brian Brivati, a historian and professor based in London, the book titled Icarus challenges - at times directly - the assertions made by the WSJ reporters. In Greek mythology, Icarus was the son of a master craftsman who flew too close to the sun and fell to his death after his wax wings melted. The moral of the story is to beware ambition as risks can have unexpected consequences.

'More misunderstood than monstrous'

The book argues that Naqvi set out to make a positive change through impact investing in emerging markets, but then a series of events led to the collapse of his investment company which is now at the centre of a global criminal conspiracy. It tells the story of Naqvi as a flawed human, but as someone who is more misunderstood than monstrous. It makes a case for Naqvi to be tried in a civil court in the UK for alleged regulatory breaches, instead of for a criminal conspiracy which carries a hefty prison sentence.

Brivati says Naqvi is vain, delusional even. 'But,' he adds, 'his life story is not the story of a crook.'

In one interesting observation, Brivati talks about Naqvi's hubris. '[Naqvi] suffered from the delusion that if he could make it around the next corner everything would be OK because it always had been before and because up to that point the usual laws of financial physics had not applied to him.'

Icarus makes three key assertions. First, that despite the allegations of fraud, 'there is no money missing'. Second, the US Department of Justice's exhaustive charge-sheet against...

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